Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Renovating and Revising

Today it's my pleasure to welcome fellow Wild Rose Press author Debra St. John to Terry's Place. In between working full time and renovating her 1920's home, she sometimes finds time to pen romance novels. She is currently working on her fourth novel and making plans to remodel the dining room.

Terry, thanks so much for having me here at Terry’s Place today! As I’ve been following your recent journey of moving and house-hunting, it conjured up memories of the experiences we’ve had with our house over the years.

Not long after we were married, my husband and I purchased what some folks might label a “fixer-upper”. The eighty-plus year old (at the time) home had been a two-flat for the entire time of its existence. Thus, it showed the wear and tear of a succession of families moving in and out over time.

Our grand plan was to convert it into a single-family home. We weren’t total “virgins” coming into this. My husband is a painting contractor, so he has some experience in the rehab milieu. I was considerably a bit more wet behind the ears, but willing to learn.And what a learning experience it has been. Nine years later it’s still a work in progress, and it’s been a journey fraught with blood, sweat, and tears along the way. I vividly remember the day we signed the contract on the house. We’d headed out to a little hot dog place for lunch. As I stood in line waiting for my milkshake, my husband must have seen the tears pooling in my eyes. When he asked what was wrong, I looked over at him. I’m sure my dismay was clearly visible in my eyes as I cried, “I can’t believe we bought that place. What were we thinking?” My vision of a dream home had been lost to images of nasty shag carpet, duct taped windows, and cracked plaster.

Once I got past the tears, it turned out the sweating part was fun. Over the years I’ve learned to use a variety of power tools (better than many of the ‘boys’ we know), tear down ceilings, rip up carpet, and install flooring to name a few things. And that’s only on the inside. I’ve also become a darn good landscaper ( A patio, walkways, flower beds, and a pond.).

We started out slowly with the cosmetic changes, and then moved on to the heavy hitters: gutting and remodeling both bathrooms and the kitchen, converting an outside staircase on the back porch to an inside one, removing storm windows and doors to ‘reclaim’ our front porch, and converting attic space to a tv/sitting room loft.

Throughout the process, at times we’ve peeled away layers or added our own as needed for any particular project.

Which brings me to the revision part of this post.

As a writer, I’ve come to discover editing and revising a manuscript is a lot like renovating/remodeling a house.

Sometimes different layers need to be added to the story to build a character’s background, deepen the conflict, or even heighten the sexual tension. Sometimes layers need to be removed, like when I’ve included way too much backstory in the first five pages.

Edits and revisions need to be done meticulously, one thing at a time. The first pass might concentrate on finding and eliminating all those times I’ve told instead of shown. Another pass might look for repeated words. While another might be on the lookout for those pesky “ly” words or passive voice. Some edits/revisions amount to cosmetic changes, minor things done to polish the story. Others require digging much deeper, maybe even changing an entire scene, plotline, conflict, or character arc.

With both renovating and revising, it’s a pleasure to see where I’ve started and how far I’ve come. We’ve taken plenty of pictures over the years of our house; as it was, as it changed, and as it is now. It’s amazing to look back at this visual chronology and see how far we’ve come. Each year on the anniversary of buying our home, we pull out the photo albums and scrapbooks and take a look. There are still things that need to be done, but as the saying goes, we’ve come a long way baby.

I’ll often keep not only the first, but subsequent drafts of my manuscripts as well. I even have the very first sad attempts I made at writing way back in my high school days. I’ve definitely learned a lot since then, but it’s fun to look back and realize just how much I’ve learned.

All that time and effort has paid off, and even the blood, sweat, and tears have been worth it. I have a beautiful home, and I can proudly say I write contemporary romance for The Wild Rose Press.

Debra's latest book, Wild Wedding Weekend, is available now. And readers are always welcome to visit her at her website (www.debrastjohnromance.com) to see what other projects she has going on!


Debra St. John said...

Hi Terry,

Thanks so much for having me today.

DL Larson said...

Hi Deb!
Great Post! I think I can relate everything I do to my writing. From remodeling to rewriting, and planting a garden to planting foreshadowing in my plot.
Glad you took on the challenge of remodeling your house. Old homes have such character!! :)
DL Larson

Debra St. John said...

Oooh, planting foreshadowing...that's a great analogy. I actually do tend to have ideas come to me when I'm digging in the dirt...I guess there's something about it that stimulated the mind! And I agree, old houses do have a lot of character.

Thanks for stopping by.

Jannine Gallant said...

There's a lot of satisfaction in renovation, whether it's getting something in your house or in your story just the way you want it. Loved the pictures of your house!

Debra St. John said...

Hi Jannine,

Thanks for stopping by. Yes, it's very satisfying to complete a renovation, isn't it? Glad you liked the pictures.

Terry Odell said...

Hi, Debra - just checking in. Filled the car, emptied the wallet at Bed Bath & Beyond. Not nearly done! Then our own renovations will begin.

Debra St. John said...

Hi Terry!

I'm quite familiar with the empty-wallet-full-car days! Hope you had fun!

Terry Stonecrop said...

I can see how home renovations relate to writing. Great post and great house!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Terry and Debra -- thanks for the inspiration. Renovating an old house is something I always wanted to do but never had the opportunity. Our current house is only 25 years old, but I'm starting to look at it as my only chance. Wonder what my husband is going to think when I take a hammer and crowbar to that wall between the hall closet and the tiny half-bath... :)

Debra St. John said...

Hi Terry S. - Thanks for the compliments, about the post and the house!

Patricia - Ah, the crowbar...one of my favorite tools. Destroying something first is almost as much fun as building the new thing that will take its place! (I'm sure your hubby won't mind about the wall...I say go for it!)

Morgan Mandel said...

Debra, I'm amazed at how much you've accomplished at your home! I can say I wouldn't even attempt it. You are a brave one.

I'm also amazed at how far you've come in your writing. You are an overachiever in both respects.

You rock!

Morgan Mandel

Maryann Miller said...

Enjoyed your post very much, Debra. What you have done with the house is beautiful and that must give you a lot of satisfaction. And i agree that the revisions in writing could be approached in a similar manner as remolding a house. One of the important factors is to decide what to keep and what to change.

Debra St. John said...

Hi Morgan - Thanks so much. I do credit some of my writing success to you...after all, it was you who recommended The Wild Rose Press!

Maryann - Deciding what to keep and waht to change is always an important thing, both in writing and house remodeling! The important thing is to have a good structure, and then go from there!

Jemi Fraser said...

Great analogy! Love the comparisons. I kind of stink at the whole power tool thing - but my hubby and kids are great - and I can totally see the connection between renovating and revising. Hope my book someday looks like your home/garden :)

Debra St. John said...

Hi Jemi, Thanks for stopping by...you're so sweet.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

What a beautiful house! And I completely agree with you...renovation and revising have a lot in common. And sometimes the tearing down CAN be fun (but sometimes it can make us want to cry, too!)

Mystery Writing is Murder

Sheila Deeth said...

What a lovely house, and what an interesting analogy. We made a pond once - about two feet by one foot, almost a foot deep - abode of frogs. It was a fun summer project before the kids decided computers were more fun than Mom.

Debra St. John said...

Hi Elizabeth - The tears are frusrating for sure, but the end result is well worth it...whether it's writing or renovating.

Sheila, We're on the second version of our pond. The first one didn't turn out well at all. Then we read some books, figured out what we were doing, and we now have a fabulous "secret garden" behind our garage.

Lilly Gayle said...

Learning how to spoon feed rather than force feed backstory is the hardest thing I learned as a writer. My first salvageable manuscript went through at least 10 edits before the backstory dump at the beginning was whittled down to a trickle of pertinent information given as the reader needed it.

Debra St. John said...

Hi Lilly,

I love the spoon feeding/force feeding analogy for backstory!